In one hot summer of my high school year, a fire broke out in my classroom. No, not the one that burned down the seventh grade classroom two years ago or the one that torched the administrative building. This one is not physical. It’s one that’s slowly brewing in our classroom, heated up by three souls: The teacher, Mr. Nhan, standing at the whiteboard with his blue marker in hand, screaming at the delinquent Kim squaring up, knocking his chair over, while in the back, the girl with the shortest temper known to man, Ly, was snapping at everyone. In other words, a Mexican standoff in the heart of Vietnam.
“Kim, I advise you to sit down right this instance. There shall be no more interruptions in this classroom you hear?”
“Mr. Nhan, with all due respect, your lectures are boring as shit. Why don’t you just let me play games on my computer in peace?”
“Because, Kim, you are having your graduation exam this year and I would respect it if you would listen to what I have to teach to prepare all of you for the exam!”
“Okay, and? You’ve seen my scores. I consistently get ninety or above, am I not excused?”
“Oh my god, can you two stop being so loud! We’re all trying to review for the exam here! You, Kim, sit down and play whatever you want to play. You, Mr. Nhan, just teach the lesson. We don’t have all day and we’ve wasted two lessons on your stupid bickering since the beginning of the semester!”
“Ly, settle down. There will be order in this class you hear? And you, Kim, there will be no excuses for you. Your scores in class do not reflect how you’ll perform in the exam. You know how hard the actual exam is, there’s no way you could pass with anything above a sixty, trust me.”
“Then less talking and more teaching! I thought you wanted us to graduate high school! What are you arguing with him for? Just let him fail.”
“The hell I’m gonna fail. Watch me bitch, I’ll pass with a higher score than yours.”
“That’s enough. I’m getting Mr. Tu, we’ll see how you like it.”
“Oh, you’re bringing him in now? Is he gonna confiscate my laptop again? Are you too scared to deal with me personally?”
Just like that, Mr. Nhan left the classroom and walked down the corridor to Mr. Tu’s office. In the sweltering, skin-crisping, hair-bleaching, one-hundred-and-ten-degree heat of Saigon, even a pin dropping from downtown could be heard twelve miles away. And that pin just sounded like an angry slam of the door. I hoped Nhan realized soon that he had summoned a beast that he couldn’t contain: a six-foot-one, two-hundred-pound, delinquent-quelling teacher. His role was so special and unique to Vietnam that there isn’t a word in the English language that could describe him, except for “Warden”, yes the prison kind. As he stepped into the class, the air grew so silent that I realized the AC was on the entire time.
“You two. Come.”
“No, I’m not going. You’re not taking my laptop again, okay? That’s against school rules. This is my student laptop.”
“You’re arguing with me about the rules? I wrote the rules, slick. Now, out of the class. You too, Ly.”
“What did I do? I just wanted to study! They were being noisy, am I not allowed to rectify them? Am I the bad guy for bringing order back into the class?”
Without a single word, the warden waved Ly out and she had no choice but to comply. A few minutes later, there was running on the basketball court. The sound of shoes hitting the concrete floor is hard to miss, especially when our class overlooked the court itself. I peered my head over the window and saw the two running laps around the court in searing weather while the warden stood and ate a bag of chips, sipping on his iced coffee. Though there were screaming and arguing on the basketball court, at least the class was finally quiet. Just barely quiet enough for me to get some shut-eye.
After all, how could I nap in this weather if those clowns were shouting?
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